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Umpire Darrell Hair's controversial return

Feeling the pressure: Darrell Hair looking to clear away butterflies

Re-inventing yourself is probably not that difficult if you have the chameleon tendencies of Madonna, but when you are a hulking six feet five inch umpire with a stubborn streak called Darrell Hair, any proposed changes are likely to be met with a healthy dollop of scepticism.

Hair will umpire his first Test match for 20 months on Friday when he stands alongside his fellow Australian, Simon Taufel, in the second Test between England and New Zealand at Old Trafford. Many in Asian countries have been outraged by his return, following his role in Pakistan's forfeit of the 2006 Oval Test - his old nemesis Inzaman-ul-Haq has called it a disgrace. But Hair, who will not be overseeing any matches involving Pakistan in the foreseeable future, insists that time in the wilderness has made him, if not a better umpire, then a better person.

"I've been involved in an umpire mentoring scheme with the International Cricket Council, which has been very satisfying," Hair said. "Being a mentor means you learn a lot yourself. It teaches you how to handle and deal with other people and understand their needs."

It was his inability to deal sensibly with an irate Pakistan team at the Oval 20 months ago, after he had handed them a five-run penalty for suspected ball tampering, and the notorious email that followed, offering his resignation for a price, which first caused his removal from the ICC's Elite Umpires Panel.

Convinced of his correct application of cricket's laws at the Oval, Hair's response was to sue his employers for racial discrimination, given they held him responsible for the farce and did not share the blame between him and the other umpire Billy Doctrove. The case went to court, but not to a final judgement after the ICC struck a deal with Hair.

Although he is outwardly confident, and had a previously unflinching belief in his abilities as a decision maker, Hair admitted that even he could be nervous when play begins on Friday.

"We all feel pressure," Hair said. "But when you're going out there to officiate a game, the best thing you can do is to get those first few balls out of the way and clear away the butterflies and get on with all those things that work for you."

As one usually ranked in the top three of the ICC's Elite Panel, Hair's decision making has mostly been good throughout his 20-year career. There has been the odd stinker, but with the media microscope on him in Manchester, as well as 30 television cameras, now would probably not be the best time to make another.

"I think the decision-making ability is still there, the only thing that could change that is a lack of confidence because I haven't done a Test match recently," Hair added.

"But provided I get the right processes and triggers into place, I'm confident I'll be able to make the majority of correct decisions. If that turns out to be otherwise, then I'd probably need to look at if I am still capable of umpiring at an international level. But at the very moment I feel confident in my abilities and the fact that I can do it."

His return will be a triumph of will. Not many survive holding their employers to ransom and then taking them to court. But good umpires prepared to trek around the world adjudicating in international matches everywhere but their own countries are thin on the ground. Which is probably why, after a bit of gardening leave, Hair is back in the big time, at least for the moment.

"I'd love to stay involved in on-field umpiring. But if that doesn't work and I'm not up to it, and let's face it, every year you get older and your hearing and eyesight get worse, then maybe a coaching or mentoring role is a preferred option."

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